Many of the figures that Anglos regarded as bandits were viewed
quite differently by Mexican Americans. They were viewed as rebels
who were defending Mexicans against Anglo prejudice, intolerance,
and violence. One popular corrido told the story of Juan Nepomuceno
Cortina, a Robin Hood-like figure defended Mexican Americans in
Texas against discrimination and violent intimidation.
es libre y muy soberano,
han subido sus honores
porque salvó a un mexicano
Los americanos hacían huelga
borracheras en las cantinas,
de gusto que había muerto
ese general Cortinas.
famed General Cortinas
is quite sovereign and free,
the honor due him is greater
for he saved a Mexican's life.
The Americans made merry
they get drunk in the saloons,
out of joy over the death
of the famed General Cortinas.
Américo Paredes, A Texas-Mexican Cancionero, 48
real-life Juan Nepomuceno Cortina (1824–1892) was born south
of the Rio Grande River to an established family and fought for
Mexico in its war with the United States. In 1859, he saw a marshal
in Brownsville in southern Texas beating a Mexican farmhand. Cortina
ordered the marshal to stop and, when he refused, shot him in
the shoulder. Then, Cortina proclaimed a Republic of the Rio Grande
and raised the Mexican flag. The Texas Rangers and the U.S. Army
eventually forced him to retreat into Mexico. But he continued
to conduct raids across the Mexican-Texas border until Mexico,
under intense U.S. pressure, imprisoned him in 1876.
proclamation that Cortina issued in 1859:
Mexicans who inhabit this wide region, some because they were
born therein, others because since the treaty [of] Guadalupe
Hidalgo, they have been attracted to its soil . . . and the
advantages of wise government. . . .
When the State of Texas began to receive the new organization
[government after it entered the Union] . . . flocks of vampires,
in the guise of men, came and scattered themselves in the settlements,
without any capital, except the corrupt heart and the most perverse
intentions. . . . Many of you have been robbed of your property,
incarcerated, chased, murdered, and hunted like wild beasts,
because your labor was fruitful, and because your industry excited
the vile avarice which led them. A voice infernal said, from
the bottom of their soul, “kill them; the greater will
be our gain!” . . .
Is there no remedy for you? Inviolable laws, yet useless, serve,
it is true, certain judges and hypocritical authorities, cemented
in evil and injustice, to do whatever suits them. . . . The
wicked way in which many of you have been oftentimes involved
in persecution . . . is well known; these crimes being hid from
society under the shadow of a horrid night, those implacable
people with the haughty spirit which suggests impunity for a
life of criminality. . . .
. . . To me is entrusted the work of breaking the chains of
your slavery, and that the Lord will enable me, with powerful
arm, to fight against our enemies, in compliance with the requirements
of that Sovereign Majesty, who, from this day forward, will
hold us under His protection. On my part, I am ready to offer
myself as a sacrifice for your happiness. . . .
Juan Nepomuceno Cortina, “Proclamation to the Mexican Americans
of South Texas,” 36 Congress, 1 Session, House Executive
Document No. 52: “Difficulties on Southwestern Frontier,”